Big ideas earn big money

March 29, 2022

Jack Murray, his dog Heidi and Greg Bier hold a large check for $15,000.

Jack Murray, a second-year veterinary student at Mizzou, won $15,000 for the Murray Kennel Co. He and his Australian cattle dog, Heidi, celebrate with a giant check from Greg Bier, who directs Entrepreneur Quest.

In the future, consumers may be able to purchase a space-saving dog crate, better-fitting uniforms and new party games thanks to a $30,000 prize pool awarded to three University of Missouri student ventures during the final Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) pitch competition March 22 at the Bond Life Sciences Center.

This year’s “top dog” was Jack Murray, a second-year veterinary student from Pittsburgh. Murray, who won $15,000 for the Murray Kennel Co., designed a dog crate that easily collapses and folds up against a wall like a Murphy bed. He filed a provisional patent with support from his EQ mentors and plans to donate 10% of the revenue from each crate sold to Purina’s Purple Leash Project, which supports pet-friendly domestic violence shelters.

“EQ has really given me all of the connections I’ve needed,” Murray said. “It has been phenomenal, and it’s really expedited this process.”

Aaron Heinickle and his card game prototype.
Aaron Heinickle displays a prototype of his card game Products.

Nine student teams representing seven MU colleges and schools had seven minutes to pitch their ventures and five minutes to answer questions from a panel of judges. Each pitch was comprehensive and included the venture’s selling points, business plan, market strategies and more.

Sponsored by U.S. Bank and Veterans United Foundation, EQ aims to “support the next generation of job creators,” said Greg Bier, MU executive director of entrepreneurship programs. 

Aaron Heienickle, a sophomore studying marketing and computer science from Weldon Spring, Missouri, won $10,000 for Skypig, a company that sells entrepreneurship games. During his presentation, Heienickle said games with a “doing business” bent like Monopoly are too long and complex for impromptu play. Players pitch random, and often outrageous, products to an "investor" in his easy-to-learn card game.

Michelle Gershkovich demonstrates ALLTER.
Michelle Gershkovich's platform helps online shoppers choose accurate clothing sizes.

Michelle Gershkovich, a junior studying textile and apparel management from Northbrook, Illinois, won $5,000. She said during her pitch that 70% of online apparel returns are due to fit issues. Her company, ALLTER, uses an app and machine learning to recommend more accurate clothing sizes to shoppers based on body measurements, preferred fit, customer reviews and other data. Gershkovich is currently working with uniform manufacturers to cut returns costs.

During the fall semester, EQ received 48 applications from MU student teams. Judges chose the teams that would participate in the program after evaluating semifinalists at a Nov. 17, 2021, three-minute elevator pitch competition at The Shack in the student center. Murray received $1,000 as the audience favorite.

Kristofferson Culmer demonstrates Spot, the robot dog.
While the EQ judges deliberated, Kristofferson Culmer, assistant professor of professional practice in engineering, demonstrated Spot, a robot that gives students programming experience.

Those serving as EQ judges this year were: Kathleen Bruegenhemke, chief risk and operations officer, Hawthorn Bank; Brant Bukowsky, co-founder of Veterans United Home Loans; Robert Griggs, founder and president, Trinity Products; Arpita Kumar, global vice president for post-merger integration and divestiture, SAP; Bill Little, former president of Quam-Nichols Co; and Mindy McCubbin, founder of Truman Wealth Advisors.

“We try to get students comfortable telling their stories,” Bier said. “You’re not just selling a business model; you’re selling yourself as the right entrepreneur at the right time at the right place.”

Student-designed EQ posters

Poster images

Michelle Gershkovich, textile and apparel management, Northbrook, Illinois
ALLTER, a platform that collects and translates customer data to deliver accurate clothing size

Chris Floyd, general studies, Columbia, Missouri
AUMN – A blockchain-based computer program that stores and maintains electronic medical records

Reagan Van Eaton, journalism, and Clay Van Eaton, business, Dallas, Texas
Beam Bracelet – Wearable, fashionable and hygienic storage for orthodontic devices

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Poster images

Jack Murray, veterinary medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Murray Kennel Co. – A murphy-bed-style dog crate that folds up against any wall to save space

Zeph France, business, Kansas City, Missouri
Nuffroom – A mobile app that streamlines the noise complaint resolution process

Georgi Gnibus, law, San Diego, California
Rad by Design – One-of-a-kind fashion pieces created with repurposed textiles

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Poster images

Aaron Heienickle, marketing and computer science, Weldon Spring, Missouri
Skypig  – Imaginative games that inspire entrepreneurship

Caleb Riley and Noah Strodtman, business management, Columbia, Missouri
Student Storage – Lockable and secure bins for students to use for easy storage over summer break

Sam O’Neill, engineering, and Kobe Messick, education, Independence, Missouri
Supersole – Affordable and customizable shoe insoles created with 3D printing technology

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